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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

December 7, 2016

The partner for whom I work plans to retire next year (confidentially). We are the only two in the practice and I’m worried I will get laid off when she leaves. What are my options?

Julie Q. Brush

As an associate in a practice with only one like Partner, your reliance and tethering to this partner is absolute, which leaves you vulnerable should anything happen to that relationship…like retirement. The good news is that you have been provided with some decent notice and can start to plot your move and create career options before the music stops. There are a few key paths to pursue and I recommend that you pursue them concurrently:

Migrate the partner’s clients to you.

As long as the partner controls all the business in your practice group, you will have no leverage in the firm. And without leverage, your job as an associate will be at risk when she retires. So a key strategy to pursue is to transition the partner’s clients to you over the next year so that when the switch is flipped, her clients will remain in your good hands – and your position will be solidified in the firm. Where to start? Schedule a formal meeting as soon as possible with your boss and let her know of your desire to service her clients once she retires. Discuss your ideas, make your argument and ask for her support. In addition, be prepared to present a plan to create a smooth transition. Given that her decision to retire is still confidential, this cannot be disclosed to her clients. But other approaches can be taken (i.e. taking on more responsibility and client interaction). The great thing with your situation is that you will have the time to facilitate change slowly, which will boost the odds of your success. If you do succeed, you will have the necessary leverage to stay in the firm…or take your newly acquired practice elsewhere.

Ask for work from other partners.

Right now, diversifying your practice and expanding the number of partners who feed you work is a wise move. So start strengthening your relationships with other partners now and offer to help. Since you are in a practice area that does not exist elsewhere in the firm, determine whether it’s possible to diversity. If necessary, ask your current boss to serve as your champion in your effort to expand your practice reach. If the timing aligns with your review, add practice diversification as part of your development goals and pinpoint specific partners to discuss those goals. Ask for their support and willingness to expand their associate support base to include you.

Build your book of business.

It’s a Herculean effort to build a solid book of business – for partners and associates alike. But being the master of your of destiny will require you to generate revenue…if you want to remain in a law firm. So create a business plan and start executing. If you don’t know where to start, leverage the plethora of resources available to help pave the way: classes, books and trusted colleagues. In addition, leverage your strong relationship with your boss and seek guidance, advice and introductions. If you can start generating your own clients, you’ll be more valuable to the firm.

Look for a new law firm position now.

If you and your partner are an island in the firm, it might be difficult to transition to another practice area once she retires. In addition, you cannot bank on inheriting her clients or developing a material practice. Consequently, it is wise to start exploring the job market for a move now. The current legal market is robust in most geographic regions and candidates are enjoying a strong selection of opportunities. So update your resume, talk to a good recruiter and start applying. The search process can take a while, which is why you want to start…now.

Move in house.

While you are exploring the law firm market, cast your net to include in house opportunities. This can expand your options and take the partner reliance and business development burden off your shoulders. Depending on your legal expertise, your in house marketability will vary. Transaction attorneys have a wider selection than litigators of opportunities from which to choose. But with the rapid expansion of the in house legal department a greater number of practice areas are being embraced as in house counsel.

With the impending retirement of your breadwinning boss, you are in a situation that requires immediate action. And immediate action you must take. Pursuing the paths above simultaneously will allow you to preserve job security and create greater career leverage. So get started now and create a future that will be far more certain than it is today.


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